History of Aligarh

The present district of Aligarh, year 2001 (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) is situated in the middle portion of Doab, or the land between the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. The principle town in the Aligarh district for the last many centuries has been its headquarters, Aligarh, 126 KM south east of Delhi. It is known till the 18th century by the earlier name of Kol. After the British occupation of Aligarh in September 1803, the present Aligarh district was formed in 1804.

Like other parts of Doab, Aligarh has a hot and dry climate. The mean temperature for December and January, the coldest months is 59F and 54 F, and for May and June, the extreme hot months, 90F and 93F in the shade. Both Akbar and Jahangir visited Kol on hunting expeditions, Jahangir clearly mentions the forest of Kol, where he killed wolves. From the study of the place-names of the district, it appears that the district was once fairly well covered by forest, thickets and grooves. The early history of the district, indeed down the 12th century AD is shrouded in obscurity.

Kol, the earliest name of Aligarh, covered not only the city but the entire district, though its geographical limits kept changing from time to time. The origin of the name of Kol is obscure. In some ancient texts, Kol has been referred to in the sense of a tribe or Caste, name of a place or mountain and name of a sage or demon. During the time of Ibrahim Lodhi, when Muhammad, son of Umar was the governer of Kol, he built a fort at Kol and named the city after his own name as Muhammadgarh in 1524-25; and Sabit khan who was the governer of this region during the time of Farrukh Siyar and Muhammad Shah, rebuilt the fort and named the town after his own name Sabitgarh. After the occupation of Kol by the Jats in 1775, it was re-named Ramgarh and finally, when a Shia commander, Najaf khan, captures kol, he gave it its present name of Aligarh. Aligarh Fort (Qila as normally People of Aligarh call it), as it stands today, is normally the work of the French engineers under the control of de Boigne and Perron. It was a completely new construction, though its site was the same as that of the fort of Sabitgarh (also called Ramgarh and Aligarh). The new fort had been made by French their principal depot for the Doab. Prior to the British occupation of the Fort, it was a polygon of ten sides with a bastion at each angle. All around ran a broad and deep ditch, crossed at the entrance by a narrow causeway. The ditch is from one to two hundred feet in breadth and thirty two feet of depth, of which there were always ten feet of water. The Fort gained added strength from its natural surroundings. The elevated plain in the midst of which it stands, being interspersed with large swamps and deep morasses, becomes so completely inundated during the rainy months as to render the fort perfectly inaccessible, nor can any military operations be the carried on against it. Its conquest was the prime importance for the British in this region. As it was admitted by General Lake himself, in his letter dated September 4, 1804 to Marquiss Wellesley. Lake writes “I have only to add that, without the fort of Allygurh we could not have had the entire possession of Doab, indeed, until it was ours, we were liable to be driven out of it at any time. Old buildings within the fort have gradually fallen down owing to disrepair. In addition to the modern buildings of the botanical gardens of the Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, there are small mounds all around. The whole area is worth excavating.

Jama Masjid of Aligarh
Sabit khan’s real name was Jafar Beg and the title of Sabit Khan Bahadur Jang was conferred upon him by Farrukh Siyar. He was reputedly very liberal towards the poor. Sabit Khan took an active interest in the construction of buildings at Kol. The fort of Sabitgarh, the tomb of Allah Bakhsh (1717), reconstruction of the present Jama Masjid of the city (1724), the funding of the Harduaganj market, repairs of Jama Masjid at Jalali (1724) and of the old fortress of Kol, the extension of the shrine of Shah Faiyaz of Atrauli and the construction of a tank which was linked with the Jama Masjid of the Aligarh city through an underground channel may be cited as some of the important works to his credit. The Jama Masjid itself is a monument of great architectural merit. The mosque stands at the summit of the Balai Qila, the highest point of the city, so that it is visible from all the sides. It is an impressive and elegant monument of the district Aligarh. According to the author of Akbar-ul-Jmal, Raje Muhammad (1740), the mosque was originally constructed by Qutubuddin Aibek, following his conquest of Kol. It was restored or renovated by Iltimush, Nasiruddin Muhammad, Muhammad bin Tughlaq and finally reconstructed by Sabit Khan. But truly speaking, barring its site, there is hardly anything now in the mosque suggestive of its association with earlier periods.

British Occupation of Aligarh Fort
By the end of June 1803, it was decided to strike a decisive blow to the native powers of India and General Lake was assigned the affairs of North India. The Governor General in his letter dated, July 27, 1803, Instructed General Lake to march against the military eastablishment of General Perron. General Lake left Kanpur on August 2 and reached Sikandrarao on 25th. At Sikandrarao, Lake was joined by Major General Ware with a detachment from Fatehgarh. From Sikandrarao instead of following the G.T.Road for Aligarh, Lake marched to Bijaigarh. The composition of the British army had the appearance of a moving town. Money changers, marchants, goldsmiths, jewelers, jugglers, dancing girls and convoy of banjaras, for the supply of grains, were included in this “moving mass” of the army. On August 28, the British army marched towards Nanau. In the early morning of August 29, at 4’O clock, the British army reached in the vicinity of Kol near Sasni Gate, where Maratha force, under the personal command of Perron, were strongly posted. Heavy canons were fired on the advance guard of the British army. After a trifling skirmish, the town of Kol was captured by the General Lake and the Maratha forces retreated to the Aligarh fort. After the first round of skirmish, Parron surprisingly retired to Mendu and from there to Agra. Lake, later on established his temporary military headquarters at Sahib Bagh, the residential garden house of Perron. From August 29 onwards, General lake, with the support of Governal General, kept himself busy in encouraging defections in the rank and file of Perron’s forces. In his letter, dated September 2, General Lake informed the Governor General that he had not yet moved from Kol and, “my object is to get the troops out of the fort by bribery which I flatter myself will be done. The Governor General fully endorsed Lake’s proposals. Lake left no stones unturned in his efforts to seduce the British as well as the French officers, but, except for the defection of the British officers or soldiers, who were serving under the Maratha forces, the hopes of the Governer General and General Lake proved illusory. They could not sow the seeds of dissension in the rank and file of the Indian troops, stationed at this time at Aligarh fort. Colonel Pedron was inclined to surrender, the fort, “with relief”, but the troops refused to submit and rallied round Bajee Rao, a Bhadauria Rajput, and confined Pedron. General Perron who had already fled from Aligarh also disapproved the idea of capitulation on the part of Colonel Pedron and reproached him severely. Pester informs us that a French man made his escape this morning from the garrison, from whom we learnt that the troops had determined never to quit the place, but with their lives. Skinner also says that, “These men resolved to defend the place to the end.”

The garrison posted at Aligarh fort consisted of’ a regular battalion, 800 strong, commanded by a native named Mir. Shahadat Ali, 1000 Bhadauria Rajputs, 500 Mewatis, about the same number of recruits, a squadron of horse and 700 golundaz. The morning of September 4, 1803, was fixed for the decisive assault of the Fort. Lt.Col.Monson was appointed to lead the attacking _party. He was assisted by Major M. Lead with His Majesty’s 76th Regiment, Lt. Col. Browne with 1st Battalion of the 4th Regiment of Native Infantry and Captain Bagshaw with four companies of 17th Native Regiment and the second Battalion of the 4th Regiment of Native Infantry. Two covering batteries of four eighteen pounders each, commanded by Captains Robertson and Green, under Col. Horsford were erected, one at a village near the fort and second at Sahib Bagh. After a fierce battle and determined resistance of the garrison, with death flying and grappling, in every direction”, the British army forced their way into the Fort. The storming column was subjected to an unceasing firing of the musketry and grape shorts from all sides at close range. The passage before the gate “became a perfect slaughter house. The garrison came down the ramparts through the ladders, which were placed against the wall by the storming forces to escalate the wall. At this juncture of hand to hand fight, the British forces sustained their, principal loss. Due to the peculiar situation of gate, which was near the flank of a bastion, the use of 6 and 12 pounders proved in effective. After forcing their way through the second gate, “the troops advanced along a narrow causeway to the third, guided by Mr. Lucan.” Amidst confusion and heavy cross-fire, the British forces made their way into the main body of the fort. Within a few hours it was all over and the fort was conquered by the British forces, after a considerable loss”, with 59 killed (6 British officers) and.168 wounded (11 British officers) of different ranks Compton remarks that “the Rajputs fought like lions,” and their leader, “Baji Rao was killed with 2000 defenders.” The surrounding ditch was filled with the dead bodies. Even after the fall of the fort, the garrison obstinately refused to surrender and they were killed in large number. Colonel Pedron, “an elderly man in green jacket” was made captive; the second in command, a Maratha chief was killed in the encounter. The capture of Aligarh fort was rejoiced with great satisfaction and relief. General Lake in his letter dated, September 4, 1803, to the Governor General, from Aligarh, says, “My Lord, I had tried every method to prevail upon these people to give up the fort, and offered a very large sum of money, but they were determined to hold out, which they did most obstinately, and I may say most gallantly. In short, my lord, from the extraordinary strength of the place, and being obliged to win it inch by inch, it being so determinately defended, that in my opinion British velour never shone more conspicuous.” The “impregnable” fort of Aligarh where, “nothing was omitted which the skill and experience of French engineers could devise, for the purpose of adding to its natural strength”, was reduced simply after a storm of few hours. The factors which led to its speedy fall are many. With their, Commander-in-Chief having unexpectedly retired from the scene of action, officers shifting their allegiance and the immediate Commander willing to surrender, the garrison at Aligarh resisted the assault of the British army to the best of their capacity, but in a desperate way. Want of an elaborate planning and arrangements brought about its fall within such a short time.